Nina, sister of Raoul

The Life and Mission of Nina Lagergren

I know the Wallenberg family for thirty years by now, and a lot of time during those three decades my thoughts and some actions were concentrated on the one of the most remarkable people in modern history, Raoul Wallenberg.

Since my first meeting with the Wallenberg Committee in Stockholm in late 1980s, the Raoul’s half-sister Nina, Nina Lagergren, had been always in the centre of all and every effort that the family and the people who did support them world-wide, were undertaking in order to find the truth about Raoul’s destiny and to do something conclusive about it, in correspondence with the ultimate finding, to get his body back from the the Soviet Union, or his belonging, to have the definite documents that would allow them to close the circle. To erect the memorial, to bury him in dignity, or to get as close to that as it would be possible. 

Nina Lagergren speaking during her Raoul Wallenberg public lecture at the Michigan University in 2000. Photo: (C) Youtube.

Nina was a rock. Clear-minded, determined, with steel-will. But what a sunny rock she was! Always shrewd and attentive, always getting to the point, always interested in what is important, actually, she interested in everything, because to her, everything was important that had to do with her brother Raoul, however distant, or hypothetical it could be. Being so astonishingly focused, Nina had her great smile to greet anyone who cared about Raoul.

This rather unusual combination of a busy and concentrated person – very busy and very concentrated – with that great smile, generous and incredibly human, was a Nina’s ‘trade-mark’, in my understanding.

She had very trained and much used, quite demanding and shrewd mind – which did not diminish its power for a bit all the long way until her 98. Still, the shrewdness and concentration of her mind did not overweight her character – open, kind, gentle and extremely pleasant. Seeing Nina, you knew in a second that you won a lottery to deal with an exceptional person. My grandma used to say about this kind of people: “ it is obviously such a well-brought person from a good old time”. Our all’ luck was that living almost a century, Nina certainly was absolutely well-brought, and she might be from a good old time, but she was also so very modern, dynamic, quick, with always prompt reactions, and as youngish, as not all young people are. There had been that special quality in her that did not allow  time to have a command over her. Some people calls it genetics, some calls it blessing.

Nina remembered every detail over the years. With her brother Guy von Dardel, she would travel world-wide and will see and speak with anyone who could either help with their never ending search, or to provide any piece of information on Raoul. They were meeting with many world leaders, with Nazi hunters, with historians, with officials, with lawyers, with intelligence officers, with public figures, and with anyone else who knew anything on Raoul.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Thinking on Raoul Wallenberg. Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity series. Outreach to Humanity project. Fine art photography. Limited edition. 2016.

In Stockholm, she would meet anyone who had a smallest bit of knowledge, over all those years.

Just think about it: it all was going for almost seventy five years, day and night. She started the search for her half-brother being young 24-old girl, and she never stopped until her passing on April 5th 2019, at the age of 98. How many people would get tired? How many could sink into despair? How many would become frantic and obsessive? How many irritated and bitter? How many disappointed? Not Nina. She had been always even, she maintained her spirit – and to a very large extent, the spirit of the family – strong. Against all odds, she kept focused, but never obsessed.

With her brother Guy, they were clearly helping each other morally to keep their backs straight and their spirit unchallenged. After Guy’s death ten years ago, she kept her smile on illuminating the family, friends and anyone who met her. It is a blessing that Nina’s brother with whom she was very close and her husband Gunnar  both lived long enough to support her spirit. But the last decade of her life ( Gunnar died in 2008), Nina was on her own – of course, surrounded by loving and strong family, but still it was different when in age of 88 she was widowed and then her brother passed away the next year after her husband. Still, the presence of will and that light inside were still there, inside Nina who did inspired her family as her generation of that part of the big Wallenberg family did always. 

That wonderful smile did not come with ease. It was perhaps easier for Nina and Guy to discuss the matter of Raoul with the heads of many states, from the USA to Israel, than to deal with it in their own country for so many decades until the situation has started to change there in the end of 1980s – beginning of 1990s.  I was always thinking on what those good, generous, highly moral people must have had thinking and what moral torments they had come  through – and overcome of – when all their endless, constant, enormous and so absolutely well-justified efforts were met at home, their and Raoul’s home, with such indifference, such unwillingness to do a thing, such weird distance, and that total, cold misunderstanding and that simply incredible, huge and long-going cover-up.

For many people, Raoul Wallenberg – what he did, how he did it, what he thought, what he told and wrote – has become a mystery and as an astonishment.

I have to tell that I was and am still thinking in these categories also on Guy and Nina. Their devotion to their brother – and their understanding and attitude towards a value of a human life in general, too, not only with regard with their brother with his most tragic destiny. Their morality, their loyalty – to the cause, and to the man, to the person, to the brother, to the family. Their understanding of dignity. Their willingness and their resolution to act does not matter how long it takes and how difficult it is. Nothing is long and nothing is difficult when a memory of a human being is on stake. Such wonderful human being. Such heroic. Such human. The one who did save so many lives doing it willingly and consciously having a raison d’etre of heart beating rationality, smashing it to non-existence.

The Nina and Guy’s lives which has been all devoted to a sole purpose – to uncover the truth and to establish it – were not easy ones for their families,  one should not make any mistake about it. But they both did give us the fundamental lesson of humanity. Knowing Nina and learning about Guy, I personally did understand much more about Raoul. It became tangible for me from which material he had been made. I understood his actions and his thinking much better, without any distance.

In my writings and lectures, I have mentioned that in the case of Raoul Wallenberg, during all my life, since I was a student, I have had a peculiar feeling which happened to be unique with regard to so many other great heroic people who were acting during the WWII and who are the subjects of my research, thinking and writing. On Raoul Wallenberg, I always had a feeling that he is my contemporary, and I did and am feeling him so very close to me. It was the case when I was 20 , and 30, and 40 and beyond it. I do not know how to explain it. But I do know that since I started to know his sister Nina thirty years ago, and during all those years on, that feeling had been seriously substantiated thanks to her.

Nina Lagergren at her home addressing the Raoul Wallenberg Academy. 2015. Courtesy: The Raoul Wallenberg Academy (C). With thanks to the Academy and Cecilia Ahlberg.

Heroic sister of heroic brother – but she would laugh her head down and dismiss anything like that if you would try to imply a hint of the sort. A magnet for the family and friends. Wonderful human being – from a good old time, indeed, but  which is continuous and is modernity when such gems of people like Nina Dardel-Lagergren are among us.

Effortlessly and with no purpose of doing it, she has taught so many people to be better, stronger and more sunny that on this sad day and facing a huge emptiness of Nina’s  absence, I am positive that her legacy will be everlasting, the same as the legacy of both of her brothers. This kind of people just do not disappear.

April 9, 2019

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Inna's family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, Holocaust and post-Holocaust, arts and culture. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi is the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association.
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